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Insomnia is a sleep disorder. Individuals who suffer from insomnia find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. They don’t feel refreshed when they wake up from sleeping. This can lead to fatigue and other symptoms. Insomnia can be diagnosed as short-term, acute, or long-term, also referred to as chronic.
Insomnia can occur at any age, and is more likely to affect women than men. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people with certain risk factors are more likely to have insomnia. These risk factors include:
Acute insomnia is typically caused by stress or an upsetting event. It can last for days, or even weeks.
Chronic insomnia occurs three times a week for three months or more. This type of insomnia is often secondary to another problem or a combination of problems, such as:
Primary insomnia may be triggered by life changes, such as an ever-evolving work schedule.
People who experience insomnia usually report at least one of these symptoms:
These symptoms of insomnia can lead to other symptoms, such as fatigue, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating on tasks during the day.
Your doctor will ask questions about your:
This will provide information that can help find underlying causes of sleep problems. You might be asked to:
A sleep log will give your doctor a picture of your sleep patterns. The doctor may also order medical tests or blood work to rule out medical problems that can interfere with your sleep.
Sometimes a sleep study is recommended. For this, you’ll stay overnight at a sleep center. Electrodes will be placed on your body, which will record brainwaves and sleep cycles. The neuroelectrical and physiological information from this type of study provides your doctor with potentially important diagnostic information about your sleep issues.
There are both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments for insomnia. Your doctor can talk to you about what treatments might be appropriate for you. You may need to try a number of different treatments before find the one that is the most effective for you.
Sleep hygiene training may be recommended. Sometimes, behaviors that interfere with sleep are causing insomnia. Sleep hygiene training can help you change some of these disruptive behaviors, such as:
If there is an underlying psychological or medical disorder contributing to your insomnia, getting appropriate treatment for it can alleviate sleep difficulties.
Sometimes, medications are used to treat insomnia. An example of an over the counter medication that can be used for sleep is an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Medications like this can have side effects, so it’s important to talk to a doctor before starting yourself on an over-the-counter medication for insomnia.
Talk with your doctor before using any of the following to treat your insomnia:
There might be dangerous side effects or drug interactions. Not every "sleep aid" drug is appropriate for everyone. Many cases of insomnia can be much more effectively managed by lifestyle changes or other remedies.
Insomnia isn’t just a nuisance or a small inconvenience. It’s a real sleep disorder, and it can be treated. If you think you have insomnia, talk to your doctor. By exploring possible causes, you can get the appropriate and safe treatment you need.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Dec 06, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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